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Mahatma Gandhi believed Bihar earthquake was punishment for practising untouchability against dalits

A massive earthquake rocked Bihar on 15 January 1934 killing thousands of people. During the untouchability agitation in Bihar, Mahatma Gandhi believed the earthquake was a punishment from God.

On 26 January 1934, Mahatma Gandhi while addressing merchants at Madura said, “Our forefathers have taught us to think that whenever a calamity descends upon a people, that calamity comes because of our personal sins”. He added, “n I want you to believe with me that for this absolutely unthinkable affliction in Bihar your sins and my sins are responsible. And then when I ask myself what can be that atrocious sin that we must have committed to deserve such a calamity which staggers us and which today probably has staggered the whole world,—within living memory there is no record of an earthquake of this magnitude in India— I tell you the conviction is growing on me that this affliction has come to us because of this atrocious sin of untouchability.”

Gandhi appealed, “realize the truth and forget that there is anyone who can be called an ‘untouchable’ and lower than ourselves and if you feel that this is the least prayaschitta that you ought to make, then of course you will take the earliest step to send succour to Bihar people”

In February, Gandhi wrote, “Visitations like droughts, floods, earthquakes and the like, though they seem to have only physical origins, are, for me, somehow connected with man’s morals. Therefore, I instinctively felt that the earthquake was a visitation for the sin of untouchability.”

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Mahatma Gandhi first linked the earthquake with the anti-untouchability campaign at Tinnevelly on 24 January 1934. He said, “For me there is a vital connection between the Bihar calamity and the untouchability campaign. The Bihar calamity is a sudden and accidental reminder of what we are and what God is; but untouchability is a calamity handed down to us from century to century. It is a curse that we have brought upon ourselves by failing to care for a segment of Hindu humanity. Whilst this calamity in Bihar damages the body, the calamity brought about by untouchability corrodes the very soul. Therefore, let this Bihar calamity be a reminder to us that, whilst we have still a few more breaths left, we should purify ourselves of the taint of untouchability and approach our Maker with clean hearts.”

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The same day Gandhi addressed a gathering of thousands at Tuticorin where he said, “I want you to be “superstitious” enough with me to believe that the earthquake is a divine chastisement for the great sin we have committed and are still committing against those whom we describe as untouchables, Panchamas, and whom I describe as Harijans.”

Gandhi reiterated this point on 25 January when he told a public meeting at Rajapalayam, “Now why should this calamity come upon us? I request you to think with me. Is this great calamity a punishment for our sin? What is the great sin we are committing and have committed? Why should we not take this as a warning to us? The wrong we have done is staring us in the face. We believe, in the name of religion, that thousands of our own countrymen are born ‘untouchables’. Is it right? It is an insolence that we must get rid of, at all costs.”

The Great Earthquake of Bihar in 1934

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Md Umar Ashraf

Md. Umar Ashraf is a Delhi based Researcher, who after pursuing a B.Tech (Civil Engineering) started heritagetimes.in to explore, and bring to the world, the less known historical accounts. Mr. Ashraf has been associated with the museums at Red Fort & National Library as a researcher. With a keen interest in Bihar and Muslim politics, Mr. Ashraf has brought out legacies of people like Hakim Kabeeruddin (in whose honour the government recently issued a stamp). Presently, he is pursuing a Masters from AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, JMI & manages heritagetimes.in.